DPP: What was the catalyst for (based on a true story)?
Harvey: Me wanting to do Rio was nothing unusual. I've done stories in and out of Rio for the last 15 years, including for the October 2012 issue of National Geographic. I already had Divided Soul. I already had Cuba. I already had those kinds of books. I wanted to do something different, not only layout-wise, but also I wanted to come out of the closet in terms of putting my personal life in the book. There's a little bit of Nan Goldin, Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson's Gonzo journalism in there. If you look at the background for (based on a true story), it's Rio. If you're a photographer, you'll know damn well that to get the shots of the guys with the guns and the drugs, you have to spend weeks with them. The wealthy people in the book also took weeks of work. You don't get to them easily, either. The superbad cops with the guns, they're in there. They take weeks also. So there are weeks and weeks of documentary photography in the book, yet that's the background. In other words, that's the stage. There's one woman that's kind of a muse that runs through the whole story, and there are other characters. I've always been a literary guy. I grew up with Mark Twain, Hemingway, James Joyce, T.E. Lawrence.
DPP: Yet the book has no text.
Harvey: It's meant to be read for its visual literacy. The story is told in pictures. I want people to read it a few times to figure out what's going on— like reading Huckleberry Finn one way, then reading it another way. You can see it as two guys going down a river on a raft or read in the metaphors. I used a lot of literary devices in the making of the photo book. In the back there's a map with the images, so if you take it apart, you can put it back together. The book is hand-assembled and has string and beads. It's an unbound book. It's interactive. One of my sons, Bryan, designed it. There are only 600 copies. Then there's a very limited series that comes in a collector's box with inlaid tiles and includes a print. Everything we do at BURN is done with the idea of creating art objects.
I shot the Rio book with a Leica M9, a Panasonic GF1 and some with an iPhone. I can't make 64x44-inch collector's prints with the iPhone, but there are a couple of spreads in the Rio book in which you would be hard-pressed to tell me which ones were shot with the iPhone and which were shot with the M9 because of the size of the book and the lighting situation where I used the iPhone.
DPP: In what situation would you pick up the iPhone instead of one of the other cameras?
Harvey: Something really casual where I didn't want to be intrusive. I'm not using any of the iPhone apps, not filtering the images or anything. I just shoot them straight.
DPP: What are some suggestions for emerging photographers?
Harvey: I was supported by the big magazines in the early days of my career, but developing smaller audiences online is the way to go these days. There's not the support out there from the big magazines anymore. Also, developing projects that really add up to something and not waiting for someone to give you an assignment. I did that when I started out with a self-assigned project on a family living in the ghetto and made a book Tell It Like It Is. Just having a good picture doesn't do anything. It's what you produce with the photos. You have to be more than a photographer. You have to have the mind of a publisher or a multimedia person and a little bit of the mind of a businessperson or have someone around you who does. Also, too many students stop short when they're shooting. They're onto something and they stop and think they've got it. Work the situation ad nauseam until you're completely exhausted. What stops a lot of people is that they run out of energy.
See more of David Alan Harvey's photography at www.davidalanharvey.com. Go to www.BURNmagazine.org for more about BURN.
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